Chicago Tribune Alert: Survey Results Misrepresented

The December 25, 2002 Chicago Tribune editorial “Can there be ‘peace on Earth?'” misrepresents the findings of a survey conducted by a group called “Search for Common Ground.” The editorial claims the survey “reports that 7 in 10 Israelis would allow a Palestinian state based roughly on the 1967 borders — in exchange for an end to violence. But many don’t trust the Palestinians to stop attacking Israelis. On the Palestinian side, about the same number show a readiness to stop the violence for such a state, but many do not believe Israel would agree.”

The claim is based on two questions from the survey by “Search for Common Ground,” which asked Palestinians:

If Israel would agree to allow the establishment of a Palestinian state within the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, evacuate most of the settlements, and negotiate in good faith on other Final Status issues, on condition that there was a period without violence against Israel, would you favor stopping violence for this period or would you favor continuing the violence?

*** Thus, what was at issue was only a temporary cessation of violence, not peace, and only so long as Palestinians perceived Israel to be negotiating in “good faith.” Nevertheless, nearly half of the Palestinian respondents (48%) answered that they favored continuing the violence, compared to 42% who would be willing to stop the “violence for this period.” Moreover, more Palestinians answered they are in favor of continuing even if Israel offered a Palestinian state and “negotiated in good faith on other Final Status issues.”

*** It is deceptive for the Chicago Tribune to report that Palestinians are ready to halt attacks for a Palestinian state. According to the survey they referenced, Palestinians are not ready to end the violence even temporarily in return for a state.

The survey then asks the 48% unwilling to stop attacks why they would not halt hostilities in return for a state on “terms acceptable to Palestinians.” Almost two-thirds (62%) doubted Israel would make such an offer. 37% (18% of total) would not end the violence until they regained all of the territory.

*** Of the total sample, 72% are willing to renounce violence for a settlement “acceptable to the Palestinians.” The survey never ascertains which conditions other than borders need to be met for a settlement to be considered “acceptable.” The survey pollsters recognize the gap and explain that “in terms of territory, a majority of Palestinians would accept a settlement based on 1967 borders.”

But, the fact is that the Palestinians also demand the so-called “right of return” — that Palestinian refugees and their millions of descendants should be allowed to “return” to Israel. Most Israelis view that as morally and legally unjustified, and as just another way of destroying their state.

The findings of the survey suggest that even if a Palestinian state were created, but Israel did not satisfy Palestinians’ other “terms,” then the Palestinians would feel justified in resuming the attacks. It is therefore misleading for the editorial to report that around 70% of the Palestinians declare a “readiness to stop the violence for such a [Palestinian] state.”

*** The editorial was misleading in other ways as well. For example, it claimed that “Thousands have died in the bloody Middle East cycle that stretches back to 1948, when the modern state of Israel was created.” But 1948 was not the beginning of the violence — significant Arab attacks against Jews far predate that year. One need only mention the Arab attack on the Jewish community of Tel Chai and other communities in the Galilee in 1920, the anti-Jewish riots in May of 1921 in which 47 Jews were murdered, or the massacre of the Jews of Hebron in 1929, and the sacking of their ancient community. Contrary to the Tribune’s belief, the violence did not start in 1948, nor was it caused by the birth of modern Israel.

*** The editorial also asserts that “Rabin was assassinated and the peace accords collapsed,” as if the reason for that collapse was the assassination. In fact the Oslo accords collapsed because the Palestinian Authority violated virtually every paragraph of those accords and praised – and even carried out – suicide bombings and other deadly attacks against their ostensible peace partners. It wasn’t the killing of Rabin that doomed the accords — after all, he was replaced by the even more accommodating Shimon Peres — it was the mass killing of Israelis by Palestinians in the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, in Haifa and Hadera, on buses and in restaurants and pizzerias and discotheques. It was the conscious Palestinian decision to go to war that killed the Oslo process.

It should be noted that the “Search for Common Ground” survey  itself presents methodological problems and its findings are obfuscated with faulty conclusions. Those who superficially review the pollsters’ interpretation may conclude, as did the Chicago Tribune,  that a Palestinian state would satisfy the Palestinians. However, a closer analysis reveals clearly that a Palestinian state is only part of the “necessary concessions.” Even the pollsters admit that their survey does not address “‘Final Status issues’ such as right of return.”

Some of the methodological problems include the use of different means of surveying the Palestinians and the Israelis thus limiting the extent to which the two groups can be reliably compared. Whereas the pollsters conducted face-to-face interviews with Palestinians, they surveyed the Israelis with telephone interviews alone. This can introduce confounding factors since face-to-face interviews may incline respondents to cover up harsher attitudes, respresenting themselves as more tolerant, while more anonymous telephone interviews may elicit more candid responses.

Editorials, like news stories, are required to provide factual accuracy. The Chicago Tribune piece presented a flawed study uncritically, then further distorted the findings.


[In the original alert, action items and contact information appeared here.]

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Chicago Tribune
December 25, 2002 Wednesday
Can there be ‘peace on Earth’?

War is part of the human condition. But at this time of year, it’s worth taking a moment to ponder how wars begin, and more important, how they end.

In Northern Ireland, for instance, the Catholics and Protestants are clinging to a peace agreement that is holding, if shaky. How did they get there? Simple, some say: They finally had enough of killing each other. Is that too facile an answer to a complicated conflict? Certainly. Politics, demography, history, culture and religion–all must be factored into the peace equation. But part of what finally stopped the bloodshed was a recognition that it had simply spun so far out of control–with the bombing of pubs and slaughtering of innocents–that a significant chunk of the populace got fed up with the violence and stopped supporting it.

If t he Catholics and Protestants could find a way to get to the bargaining table and stop the violence, doesn’t that suggest it’s possible in the Middle East?

Admittedly, Northern Ireland is far different from the Mideast. The conflicts have little in common, except that they have lasted for decades and people can neither forgive nor forget.

Thousands have died in the bloody Middle East cycle that stretches back to 1948, when the modern state of Israel was created. The killing has grown gaudier and more efficient in recent years. From the rock throwing of the first intifada in 1987, the Palestinians moved to one of the most horrific and repugnant terrorist weapons: the suicide bomber.

A scant nine years after the euphoria of the Oslo accords, many Israelis have abandoned all hope of a peace settlement. One political analyst said that in the past year Israelis have come to believe that no Israeli leader can fix the current situation. But many Israelis believe Sharon is doing as well as anyone can. Sharon, a hawk by any definition, has become the centrist in Israeli politics, and that tells you all you need to know about the Israeli public’s state of mind.

The irony is that most people — on both sides — seem to be tired of the killing. Many even discern the outline of a solution. But neither side believes the other will make a deal. One recent poll by the group Search for Common Ground reports that 7 in 10 Israelis would allow a Palestinian state based roughly on the 1967 borders–in exchange for an end to violence. But many don’t trust the Palestinians to stop attacking Israelis. On the Palestinian side, about the same number show a readiness to stop the violence for such a state, but many do not believe Israel would agree. Only about one in five on either side remains adamantly opposed to compromising on land issues.

So the killing continues, a disaster for both sides. The Israeli economy has tanked; unemployment has soared; and one recent report says one in five Israelis now lives in poverty. The Palestinian suffering is worse than ever. Most of the West Bank has been reoccupied, and what’s left of the Palestinian economy is in tatters; hunger and disease are rampant.

At the funeral for one of two boys killed in the terrorist attack on the Paradise Hotel in Kenya earlier this month, one Israeli mourner said: “This is like the Holocaust, in slow gear. We have no time to recover from one blow, and then comes another one, stronger. It’s better to have a war. Better war than a drop here a drop there. Better for them, too. What we have now is worse.”

Many Palestinians recognize that, too. Mahmoud Abbas, a top Palestinian leader, told his fellow Palestinians recently that the armed uprising against Israel had been a mistake, and it should stop immediately. “What happened in these two years, as we see it now, is a complete destruction of everything we built,” he said.

That message may be taking hold. From last March, when Palestinians favored the intifada by 2 to 1, a recent poll now shows they are almost evenly divided over continuing it.

On a brilliant day in September of 1993, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat faced each other on the South Lawn of the White House, and clasped hands. There were high hopes then that the Mideast had changed forever.

Rabin said: “We who have fought against you, the Palestinians, we say to you today in a loud and a clear voice: Enough of blood and tears. Enough!”

But, as we now know, it was not enough. Not nearly. Rabin was assassinated and the peace accords collapsed.

Now, in the cradle of three religions born to overcome hatred and killing, the ground is still soaked with blood and the phrase “peace on Earth” rings hollow. And we wonder: When will it be enough?

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